Wednesday, December 28, 2016

December 28, 2016

Was your Christmas wonderful? Was it the best one, ever? I’ve found that the way to make each holiday the best it can be, is to believe it is the best one, ever. Attitude is everything, and an attitude of gratitude and positivity will bring you the most blessings in life. With everything in me, I believe this, one hundred percent. I believe that in the future, it will be discovered that some of that 90 percent or more of our brains that we don’t currently use, can indeed perform miraculous feats of healing, and create a copious amount of happiness if we just believe it’s so, and are open to learning how to use it.

Why not try positive thinking, and telling yourself not only how lucky you are, but how grateful you are for all the blessings in your life? Please, don’t tell me that you’ve struggled, and can’t be grateful because life is hard. My friend, we all struggle, and life is hard for all of us. There have been many times in the past when I didn’t know how we were going to make it to pay day; many times, when we didn’t have much of a pay day to look forward to in the first place. We’ve all lost something or someone. I’ve lost 2 homes to fire, an eight-day old granddaughter, and my middle child. Yet I have been blessed in this life and I’m grateful for all I’ve been given. Simply try it, believe it, and see what happens inside your heart.

It’s that time of the season for the “best of” lists for the year that’s about to end. It can be useful to take a bit of time and look back on the year—the good, the bad, the ugly that happened in the world at large. It can be very useful to make note of the lessons you learned, the wonders you saw, and maybe learn from the inevitable mistakes you made. I keep trying to do that last one, learn from those mistakes. I think I’m getting a bit better at it, because either the mistakes really are fewer lately—or I simply don’t notice them anymore when they happen.

I really hope it’s the former and not the latter.

We spent a quiet Christmas Day here, with just David’s sister joining us for supper. She lives about forty minutes away, and has been spending Christmas Day with us the last couple of years. She and I have always enjoyed a fairly close relationship. Her son and his family, lately, have gone to his wife’s parents on the 25th, and we’re always glad to welcome her here.

We enjoyed our annual Boxing Day brunch at my brother’s on Monday, with all his family there. Later today we’ll head on over to our daughter’s house on the other side of town for another Christmas get-together. This time it’s with the girls and their families. We see them all on a fairly regular basis. Considering we all live in the same small town, that’s as it should be. But we really enjoy the special occasions together. Sonja loves what she calls “family dinner”. I for one will appreciate this gathering, because although I will be taking my meal contributions—sweet potatoes, and my Christmas Pudding—I don’t have to worry about waiting on people or doing the dishes. Then, tomorrow, it’s off to the next town, and lunch with our oldest son and his crew.

It’s now been more than a year since my gallbladder surgery, and my ability to enjoy food, while not completely back to how it had been prior to those problems starting up, is better than it had been for a few Christmases. I don’t generally eat a great deal at any time, but it’s nice to enjoy a few special dishes—like warm crab dip, smoked oysters, and roast goose (not all at the same meal). Christmas pudding, as well, is a very special treat, but I’m quite happy with a small sample of that. I tend to prefer the savory over the sweet.

The holidays for me, more than anything, signify family and tradition. It’s seeing those ornaments on your tree that you remember your mother hanging; it’s knowing your daughter is putting a huge orange in the toe of her grandbabies stockings, just as my daddy did with mine; it’s visiting with loved ones, and sharing special moments. I look forward to giving, and I really don’t care if I get any gifts in return—because what I do get, without fail, is better than any thing wrapped in paper.

I get a sense of legacy, a sense of harmony, and a feeling of joy when the eyes of the children are filled with magic and wonder. I think we could all do with a little more magic and wonder in our lives. Don’t you?

May the coming New Year be all you wish it can be—prosperous and filled with love, laughter and happiness.


Wednesday, December 21, 2016

December 21, 2016

The Christmas holidays in the Ashbury household have officially begun. This year, when we were expecting my husband to have more time off than in recent seasons past, he ended up having less—just two weeks instead of the three he has had the last couple of years. He finished up his work for 2016 last Friday. The first thing he did when he got home was turn off the alarm on his cell phone.

One significant difference between this year and last, aside from his time off being a week shorter, is the change he made very early this past January, when he moved his computer out of my office, and into a corner of the living room. So already, we’re beginning this two-week period with less stress between us than last time. Even more interesting is that a few months ago, he began looking forward to what it was he’d be doing to occupy his time when he retires. Next year this time, he will have been retired for about a month.

His original plan had been to find a piece of old farm equipment, and restore it. This would require a fair bit of physical activity on his part, beginning with constructing a garage to do the work in. About a year or so ago, he officially scrapped that idea. Although his COPD isn’t progressing rapidly, it is a constant for him, and it’s a disease that will never get better. He decided that while he will do his best to remain as physically active as possible, he needed a more sedentary activity to help the days pass.

I didn’t have to warn him that he couldn’t just quit work after more than 40 years and just do nothing; this was something he already knew. There have been people we’ve known or known of in our lifetimes, who did just that—spent their time becoming professional couch potatoes—and died within a year of retirement. He knew he had to have a reason to get up every day. I wasn’t the least bit surprised when he told me he’d found the perfect thing for him to do: he’s going to write novels.

He has already written one novel—a challenge he accepted, from me, back in the day when I was hoping to some day be published. He was so full of “helpful advice” on how I could improve my writing “process”, I suggested that since he was an expert, he should write his own book, which he did.

Now, he would be the first to tell you it wasn’t very good. But it had a beginning, a middle, and an end, and a plot that unfolded in a logical manner. That’s pretty basic, and if you can do that, you can in all likelihood write a passable book. Some talent is necessary, but mostly, it’s craft. He’s not undertaking this activity to make money, just to keep busy. If things in the self-publishing world don’t change within the next couple of years, that’s what he’ll do with his finished novel.

He isn’t going to write romance, which I am certain is good news to those of us who do. Instead, he’s of a mind to write dystopian stories, as those are the ones he likes to read that most fire his imagination. He has a couple of different scenarios in mind, and so far, is enjoying himself, outlining plot points. He’s already started on his first novel, because once that idea creeps into your mind, you can’t always put it off. It needs to be written out—and since my husband decided to write it out (the old-fashioned way using pen and paper), he’s already filled a couple of notebooks. I’ve promised that I’ll help him where I can. End of civilization stories aren’t really in my wheelhouse, as I’ve only ever read one series that had that kind of theme. But that doesn’t mean I can’t edit it for him, when he decides it’s ready to head to the book-sellers. While I would never claim to be able to edit my own work, I believe I have the creds necessary to fill that role for someone else.

I’m delighted he found something to focus on, something to look forward too. I’ve long ago decided that the secret to happiness is to have a goal or, if you will, a dream. It’s better to spend your time being someone going somewhere, rather than just standing still and letting the moss of passing time cover you over.

David and I wish all of you a very Merry Christmas, a Happy Hanukkah, and a Happy Kwanzaa! 


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

December 14, 2016

The Christmas rush is on. This year, fortunately, I’m not too terribly disorganized. Perhaps it’s a cop out on my part, giving everyone except my toddler great-grandbabies gift cards. For me that option is easy as heck. For the recipients—they can get something they really want, and there is no need for them to be disappointed or to return anything.

David and I aren’t getting anything for each other this year. We may go away someplace warm in February, but the jury is still out on that. For the most part, if there’s anything we need we just get it. And we’re both at the point that we don’t want what we don’t really need. This will be his last year in the work force. He’s ready for retirement, and while I’m not quite there yet, I will be on the day he punches his time card for the last time.

Meanwhile, life goes on. We had expected him to be ‘enjoying’ a seasonal lay-off, beginning October 28th. Everyone at his jobsite got notices of the impending action. The plant manager was very upset about the decision, which was a last minute one and came from head office. The man worked some magic and managed to keep a crew of about ten, based on seniority. Since David is the most senior employee—coming up on 40 years—that was a bit of a relief.

We’d already pared back our holiday plans, and tightened our belts. When you get to our stage of life, that isn’t a difficult thing to do. Being older, these bumps in the road don’t jar us the way they did when we were younger. I do dislike uncertainty, but that’s my problem, totally. We would have gotten through a two-month long lay off, but we’re just as happy we didn’t have to.

My daughter is hosting Christmas dinner on the 28th, as that is when she and our second daughter, Sonja, are scheduled to be off. Sonja is cooking the turkey, and my husband is already rubbing his hands in anticipation. Of course, that means that Christmas Day, it’ll be just the two of us. And that will also be a gastronomic treat for him. He loves goose. Absolutely loves it. The rest of the family, not so much. So, this Christmas Day’s supper, here, will be simple: roasted goose, rice with raisins, and some green veggie—possibly spinach or swiss chard. I might even have a glass of white wine with my meal. That’s Morgan’s idea of living life on the edge.

Last Friday we awoke to our first real snow fall. We’d gotten a skiff or two before this, but the temperatures at that point were mild enough that the white stuff melted by end of day. I was just relieved the snow held off long enough for my beloved to correct his slight miscalculation with regard to the porch steps and walkway.

A week or so ago, the temperature dropped and the wooden steps and walkway that were wet at the time, became too icy for me to navigate. On the porch, in a blue box with a lid, there was some salt. We had checked just the day before, but none of our local stores had received their new stock of salt, so there had been none available to buy. All the salt we had was this lump that took up nearly half the box. Now, I had asked my husband a couple of weeks beforehand to take a minute and take something sharp to that salt block, to break it up so it could be used on the steps. I know from personal experience that would not have required a great deal of muscle. That idea, however, apparently didn’t appeal to him. Instead, (and relying on accumulated life experience), on the day those steps iced over, he brought down the kitty litter, and used that on them and walkway.

Friends, have you noticed that kitty litter isn’t the stone dust it used to be? No? Well, neither did my beloved. Let me tell you, as clearly as I can: do not try this, ever! As a result of his ministrations, the steps became slicker than cat poop on a linoleum floor. David was shocked! This should have worked! I explained, with as much restraint on my sarcasm as I could muster, that kitty litter is no longer stone dust like it was in the olden days. It’s all chemicals now, clumping chemicals, that become as one with whatever wetness it comes in contact with.

He used the outside broom and brushed off those steps. That didn’t work. My daughter rinsed off those steps with water (which, yes, is wet). That didn’t work either. My husband finally ended up getting his electric drill out, putting the wire brush tool on it, and going over each step and the entire length of the walk way with that tool, scouring off the goop.

That worked. But now it has snowed, and so the salt (which my daughter broke up for him, took her only a couple of minutes) is in use, and hooray, we have two new bags of that, now, so we’re set.

Just another example of how things can change and we don’t even really notice—until we do.


Wednesday, December 7, 2016

December 7, 2016

We sometimes think that the way things are now is the way they’re always going to be. That’s a natural assumption for humans who are, by nature, creatures of habit. Most people need a certain level of stability or security in their lives, and a sense of having a measure of control over those lives.

That’s why, for example, we love our homes, however humble they may be. As I’ve mentioned more than once in these essays, my house isn’t one of those fancy homes you see featured in magazines. It’s in need of a great deal of cosmetic work and even some work that’s more than cosmetic; my laundry facilities are in the basement and very difficult for me to get to, so in that respect, the house doesn’t even work for me anymore—but it is my house. We own it outright, and there is no place on earth—no fancy hotel (and I’ve been in more than a few) or fancy house (I’ve stayed in a couple of those, too) where I feel more comfortable, or happier, than right here in my own little hovel.

The same can be said for most of us when it comes to our greater environment—like our societies. According to the Pew Research Center, nearly four in ten people in the United States never move beyond the community in which they were born. As for our society nationally, we here in North America are used to living in a democracy—be it one with a parliamentary governmental system, or one that is a republic. We think this is normal and this is the way it will always be. And that can be true, during our life times, with one codicil: we must ensure the continuation of our democracy if we want it to continue. We must protect our freedom if we want to keep it.

Being ‘free’ isn’t a done deal—it’s not a “yay, we made it, now let’s move on to other things” state of being. Freedom is something that must be constantly guarded. It must be protected. It requires a certain vigilance, a certain brightness of mind and an ability to be able to see through the dross of this world to the inner core of what is. And it requires this of all of us. We all must be vigilant.

An attack on our freedom can come stealthily, slowly, a little at a time and seem like no big deal while it’s happening—or conversely, it can seem like the perfect fix for what we think is wrong with the way things are. It’s even possible that those people perpetrating these small incursions don’t even know that’s what they’d doing. They’re just spouting off, because something has offended them, or hurt them, or they feel as if someone is to blame for whatever misfortune they’ve experienced, and the need to “make it right”, or even “make someone pay”, is a need clamouring within them to be met. And so they act, but in a way that begins to contravene our freedoms.

I’m not sure where we got the idea that life was always fair, or even, that how things are now is how they’re always going to be, without any concerted effort on our part to make it so. Since the dawn of time, human kind has been evolving. Not just in the sense of “human evolution”, either. But our societies and our institutions and our technologies have evolved, changing over time. This change is a constant, practically a law of nature. If that were not so, we would all still be living in caves.

Democracy—the kind we have here in North America—is not the only socio-political or geo-political system known to humanity. It is not the only way people on this planet are living right now. It’s just one of the ways. And for now, it’s our way, yes. But for how long, do you think?

We can trust our countries’ constitutions to keep us safe, but only insofar as everyone respects those precepts, and honors those documents. Those who would steal our freedom will act to limit those sacred tenets. There is a danger in closing your eyes and trusting, blindly, that all will go on as it is, as it has always been during our lifetimes. There is a grave danger in trusting the one who says that he alone can fix things. Those are two of the lessons that history teaches us, and we’d be wise to revisit them.

We must be vigilant.

Everything stays the same, until it changes. But that change—like death and taxes, is inevitable. The only question that remains is this: what kind of change will we experience next? Will we expand our definition of rights and freedoms and democracy, and become an even more inclusive, open and just society?

Or will we slowly, but surely, let those rights and freedoms we take for granted be restricted in the name of some so-called greater good? Will we, in fact, invest the nest egg of our future in the businesses of the snake oil salesmen of the world?

Only time will tell.